Get ready for a new Michael Vick
By John Kryk, QMI Agency
BETHLEHEM, PA. - As with every other NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles' success hinges largely on the play of their quarterback.
Theirs is Michael Vick. Lucky them, right?
Well that wasn't always the case in 2011.
Now out of the world's doghouse, as it were, Vick is a rare talent who combines an incredible passing arm with supreme speed and athleticism.
When commissioner Roger Goodell allowed Vick to return to the league in 2009 after his infamous 19-month imprisonment for running a dogfighting ring, the Eagles signed him as a backup.
Before his prison term, from 2001-06 with the Falcons in Atlanta, Vick was viewed as the game's ultimate dual-threat quarterback — one who got by on his athleticism, not his mastery of the intricacies and subtleties of expert quarterback play.
In his first full season as starter with the Eagles in 2010, he had a QB rating of 100.2, completing 63% of his passes for 21 TDs and only six interceptions.
But last year, after signing a $100-million contract extension, he regressed, and the Eagles flopped to an 8-8 record. Vick's QB rating plummeted to 84.9, and his TD/INT ratio was an abysmal 18/14.
Some critics said he reverted to pre-incarceration form by bailing out of the pocket too early and ad-libbing too often with his stupefying speed and elusiveness.
Vick put those suppositions to rest on Wednesday.
After the Eagles' hard-hitting afternoon practice in full pads at Lehigh University, Vick told me that the difference between last year and this year regarding his familiarity with and command of the Eagles offence, and his teammates' familiarity with each other in it, is "night and day."
"Last year, I really couldn't come out and run the offence like I did today," the 32-year-old told me. "I could run the offence, yeah, but as far as protection-wise and making calls in the pass-pro game to pick up the blitz, last year was tough because it was all new language, it was all new for everybody. But now we got it."
Later asked by another reporter to quantify the change, Vick said, "Last year I would say by this time I was about 25 or 30% comfortable, where now I'm about 90%."
And as his head coach Andy Reid told me earlier in the day, cutting down on turnovers is paramount if the 2012 Eagles are going to return to the playoffs.
"If it's not there down the field, then sometimes you can't force it," Vick said. "I tried to force a couple of balls (Wednesday) in 7-on-7s, and that's kind of the time to do it. (That's) not to make any excuses. I threw a couple of interceptions today. But I'll learn from it, and that's what's most important."
One thing he's doing to improve himself is study old action footage of San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, a dual-threat star in the early '90s.
"(I'm) just trying to not necessarily pattern myself after him, because I can't do what Steve did — this is a different day and a different time," Vick said. "But he made himself so great, and I've got to do the same thing for myself as far as managing the game, poise, and making good decisions."
Michael Vick, game-manager? That certainly hasn't been high on his list of attributes. But he said he's thankful that God has now surrounded him with people who were able to show him the light in this regard.
And he's right to embrace this crucial aspect of helmsmanship at the NFL level.
Vick said the biggest difference we'll see from him in 2012 is this very thing.
"The ability to manage the game," he said. "Whether we're in no-huddle, whether we're in two-minute, whether I'm getting blitzed, and just being poised and making good decisions, I think, is going to be a difference-maker.
"This season I expect to be more poised."
Earlier Wednesday, Reid explained what he expects this year from Vick.
"He just needs to play — to play within the offence and go, and put his own little personality on it," Reid said. "And then there's a time when you can slide or get out of bounds and live to play another play. But just execute the offence.
"And he does that very well. I just want him to be him."
A more mature him, it sure appears.